Spanning his entire career, the 27 essays gathered here vary in style from the ambling rhythm of "Natural History of Massachusetts" and "A Winter Walk" to the concentrated moral outrage of "Slavery in Massachusetts" and "A Plea for Captain John Brown". Included are "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau's great exploration of the conflict between individual conscience and state power that continues to influence political thinkers and activists; "Walking", a meditation on wildness and civilization; and "Life Without Principle", a passionate critique of American materialism and conformity. Also here are literary essays, including pieces on Homer, Chaucer, and Carlyle; the travel essay "A Yankee in Canada"; the three speeches in defense of John Brown; and essays such as "Autumnal Tints", "Wild Fruits", and "Huckleberries" that explore natural phenomena around Concord.
Seven poems are published here for the first time, and others are presented in new, previously unpublished versions based on Thoreau's manuscripts.
Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817. He graduated from Harvard in 1837, the same year he began his lifelong Journal. Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau became a key member of the Transcendentalist movement that included Margaret Fuller and Bronson Alcott. The Transcendentalists' faith in nature was tested by Thoreau between 1845 and 1847 when he lived for twenty-six months in a homemade hut at Walden Pond. While living at Walden, Thoreau worked on the two books published during his lifetime: Walden (1854) and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). Several of his other works, including The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, and Excursions, were published posthumously. Thoreau died in Concord, at the age of forty-four, in 1862.